Speakers

We listen to an audio system that costs as much as a Ferrari

The Audiophiliac takes the FM Acoustics Inspiration System XS-IIIB out for a spin.

My high-end audio career started in earnest when I worked as a salesman in a brick-and-mortar store in the 1980s, and continued later as an audio reviewer. Lucky me -- I've heard most of the world's very best audio, but there's still a lot of gear that I never got around to checking out. That was the case for FM Acoustics, until I had the pleasure of auditioning a complete FM Acoustics system at the Audioarts showroom in New York City.

Part of the FM Acoustics Inspiration System XS-IIIB at Audioarts.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

FM Acoustics is hardly a newcomer. The company was founded in 1973 by Manuel Huber, and since 1993 FM Acoustics has been based in Horgen, Switzerland on the shore of Lake Zurich. I auditioned its Inspiration System XS-IIIB, which includes a pair of large floor-standing speakers, four channels of amplification, a stereo preamplifier, a phono preamplifier and the necessary cables, all designed and built by FM Acoustics. As configured the system runs a mere $238,900 (converting roughly to £192,972 and AU$316,151), but that price can go up or down, depending on the customer's choices of FM Acoustics electronics used with the speakers. The Inspiration System XS-IIIB is not only impeccably finished, it will be installed, calibrated and fine-tuned to perform at its best in the owner's home by a trained engineer.

To warm up from the January blizzard outside the cozy Audioarts showroom, I started listening with 1960s vintage albums from singers Dean Martin and Johnny Hartman. The amplification may be solid-state, but it sounded closer to tube electronics. Or like no electronics at all -- the singers and bands sounded like living musicians. While the recordings are more than a half-century old, the music was brought back to life by this remarkable system. The Inspiration System XS-IIIB didn't just appeal to my audiophile sensibilities, the music felt great! It was a full-body experience.

The gutsy punch of keyboardist Billy Preston's funkiest albums made it clear the Inspiration System XS-IIIB could get down and party. Same with tango master Astor Piazzolla's music, which transported me to the simmering heat of a Buenos Aires dance hall. The connection to the music was total.

I continued with Frank Zappa's seriously quirky "Francesco Zappa" album of baroque chamber music written by an 18th-century Italian composer who may or may not have been an ancestor of Zappa the 20th century musician. As Frank played the elder Zappa's music on a very early Synclavier synthesizer, the sound was at once classical and electronic.

The Inspiration System XS-IIIB brought out the best in all the music I played, but it's extremely expensive -- close to the starting price of the Ferrari 488 GTB CNET recently tested. Then again, if you have that kind of money, you can probably afford the car and the hi-fi; it's good to be rich. Everybody else might want to buy fistfulls of lottery tickets and hope for the best.